Sunday, August 5, 2012

Developing Reflection and Efficacy in All Teachers

Teacher Orientation That Makes a Difference
In a nation facing a surge of new teachers, we face a serious question: What teacher orientation promotes teacher learning? No teacher comes to the classroom totally prepared to be an effective instructor and manager of students. Research clearly shows us that teaching and learning are far more complex than ever thought. So the question remains: How do we ensure that all students get the best teachers?
To answer this question, we must examine ways to help both beginning and experienced teachers to become motivated educators who aspire to perpetual growth. Becoming an effective educator involves combining natural talents with an attitude that is receptive to new ideas and a willingness to grow – this is what educators bring to the classroom. The essential ingredient that teachers need from others is professional development that can promote teacher learning in all teachers and can help continual growth be a state of mind for all educators.
We encourage students to become life-long learners; we must encourage teachers to do so as well. And we need to ensure that they have the professional development they need.
How does the right professional development make a difference? Let’s look at some examples.
Joseph had been a 2nd-grade teacher for 25 years in the Los Angeles public school system. He had very little interactions with other teachers or other adults outside of his classroom. He had no sense of his strengths as a teacher. He was getting “burned out” with teaching by his own admission. Joseph then attended a summer institute that focused on effective teaching research and strategies. At the summer institute he was helped to reflect upon his practice in light of the research. He was inspired by the realization that his practice in many ways matched best practice as described by the research. That successful reflection brought about motivation, confidence, a sense of efficacy, and a new desire to invest more energy and effort into not only continuing his teaching but to look more at new ways to grow professionally as a teacher. The flame that was burning out was rekindled, brighter than ever.
Nancy had been an elementary teacher and then a middle school language arts teacher in a Denver suburb. She had always lacked confidence in her teaching and looked at herself as less than others in the profession. She decided to go through the process of applying for National Board certification. That process, offered by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, took Nancy step-by-step through a reflective writing experience that invited her to compare her practice to the standards set by the NBPTS. Through that intensive reflection experience, Nancy saw herself measure up to many of the aspects of the National Board standards. She also saw where and how she could improve her practice to better meet those standards. At the end of the application process, her confidence and motivation were high. The following year she tried new strategies in her teaching with a sense of efficacy supported by constant reflection throughout the process. Her love for her teaching and the enjoyment it brought her increased immensely.
Research tells us that when teachers feel efficacious and that feeling is grounded in solid practice, students succeed (Datnow & Castellano, 2000; Hord, 1997; McLaughlin & Talbert, 1993; Rosenholtz, 1989). Under the circumstances, the urgency for quality professional development to build this efficacy is profound.
Building Efficacy for Teaching and Learning: Roles for Reflection and Application
A retired army colonel was asked how efficacy is built within a new soldier. He replied that a confident sense of preparedness and readiness to tackle new challenges is developed through extensive and supported training provided by a worthy guide. The new soldier shares with his trainer a sense of value for the training and understands its purpose. There is no difference between this very human experience and that of an educator developing professional mastery in the struggle to meet student needs.
The type of orientation that promotes teacher learning involves two primary features: 1) teaching and supporting teacher reflection, and 2) helping teachers build efficacy through recognition of successful experiences. Reflection is an essential practice in effective teachers as they constantly review the effectiveness of their teaching in an effort to identify what works and what should be changed. Efficacy is developed over time as a teacher experiences success in the profession and develops into a competent classroom leader.
Teachers develop a sense of efficacy when, first, they are provided with opportunities to reflect upon their strengths as set by a standard and are supported through experiences of training that help them to develop new and useful skills. Second, when teachers are supported by a knowledgeable guide who is seen as worthy, in a setting that holds high expectations, opportunity, and choice, then all teachers can become more successful as educators. One thing to remember during this process: professional growth in teaching involves personal growth as well. Personal growth requires individual efficacy, motivation, and optimism, all of which are developed through systematic, purposeful reflection. Timely and honest feedback effectively delivered to teachers in an ongoing manner by the worthy guide is critical. The effective administrator or staff development facilitator will have many of the attributes of a good coach and will help all teachers develop their ability to objectively review their instructional and other classroom practices. The third ingredient for success in the process is adequate time. Effective professional development also provides time for teachers to plan and to use new ideas while also providing time for purposeful reflections on the impact of using those new ideas.
Reflection should not only be taught, but also modeled in the delivery of professional development.  In fact, reflection should be modeled and taught as part of every teacher’s professional growth. A simple model that promotes reflection is one that is used in the Educational Research and Dissemination (ER&D) Program developed by the American Federation of Teachers. ER&D trainers use a three-step process to promote reflection through the research.
Step 1: How is this idea different than what I do now?  How much do I know about this topic or idea?  What would / could be the benefits of implementing this change?
Step 2: What do I need to do to implement this idea?  How will I determine if it has positively impacted student achievement?
Step 3: After trying the new idea, reflect upon the impact.  Is it worth doing again?  How can I change the idea to make it more effective?
A simple scaffold to promote reflection, like the one above, offers a process to promote reflection.  If reflection is systematically taught and modeled, teachers can develop this most important disposition in teaching.
An important consideration in developing an orientation that promotes teacher learning involves the research on human needs by Connell and Wellborn (1991).  They suggest that engagement is optimized when the following three human needs are met: 1) competence, 2) relatedness to others, and 3) autonomy.  Supporting these basic needs can lead to the development of efficacy within teachers.
Competence. In teaching, the ability to manage a classroom and to help students learn requires a variety of skills. Professional development in the early part of a teacher’s career should focus on developing strong classroom management skills and on developing the art of planning successful learning activities. Competent teachers acquire these skills over time as they are exposed to new strategies in both formal and informal ways. As they learn about and try new strategies, they gain valuable experiences.
As a teacher’s competence grows, perspective is gained which leads to increased efficacy and allows for purposeful and powerful reflection. This cycle of reflecting upon growth leading to new learning develops the life-long learning cycle that can be modeled for students.
Relatedness to others. This is an area of professional development that has received attention in recent years.  The idea of teachers meeting to talk about best practices in what Dufour & Eaker (1998) call “professional learning communities” is an example of professional development that supports the needs of teachers. This social interaction provides an opportunity for teachers to reflect upon and share managerial and instructional strategies and develops the collective efficacy of the staff. Conversations are focused on specific issues that teachers face within their school as they develop a sense of community and support. The collective exchange of ideas results in better solutions to the challenges of teaching and learning than can be achieved individually.
Autonomy. What we need to develop in teachers is their autonomy as professionals.  We need to help teachers discover how to be their own professional development coach, how to apply what they learn in their classroom, and how to continually reflect to promote ongoing growth. Professional development needs to develop the teacher's ability to choose what ideas fit his or her own style of teaching.  Additionally, teachers need to develop ways to become discriminating consumers of professional development offerings.
Teachers should be supported in learning how to use reflective practices so that they can become their own autonomous professional development coach. When we can identify ways to promote autonomous, self-directed, reflective teachers, we can start to improve professional development in education as a whole.  What are the characteristics of experienced teachers who continue to grow throughout their career? As we identify the qualities that promote reflection and professional growth we can develop programs that help teachers become their own coach.
Teachers, as with all individuals, have protective egos that act as a barrier to change. At the outset of problem-solving activities, teachers must have the confidence to evaluate new ideas and assess whether the innovation will be useful in their practice. The professional developer as a worthy guide can be effective by identifying that a new change is already in a teacher’s understanding. Through surfacing prior knowledge and frame of reference for a teacher, through listening to and understanding a teacher’s prior experience, and by personally relating to and listening to a teacher’s sharing of what they need to grow, the professional developer can begin to know the teacher as a person and then can help them to grow.
When professional development is delivered with high expectations, through a positive relationship, and supportively respects a teacher’s view of herself, then growth potential exists. In such a positive, trusting environment, the professional development coach might use phrases like the following to promote teacher growth:
“I believe you can.” “Don’t be afraid to fail.” “Your job is safe.” “Believe change has value.” “Take small steps.” “This will be better and easier for you and your students.” “You have the time this will take.” “Try this out, it is cool.” “You are great. Take a chance.” “Make this change in a way that works for you.”
Bringing it all together
When a professional development experience meets the human needs of autonomy, relatedness to others, and competence, a relationship of trust has the opportunity to occur if it appears that the guide is worthy and that the training has value. Scaffolds and models must be provided so that effective training can take place. Opportunities and supports for articulation, reflection, and exploration must then occur so that efficacy is developed and a sense of success can take place. This framework for building efficacy through reflection supported by a worthy guide will provide for motivation and optimism leading to further professional growth.
Connell, J.P., Wellborn, J.G. (1991). Competence, autonomy, and relatedness: A motivational analysis of self-system processes. In M.R. Gunnar & L.A. Sroufe (Eds.), Self processes in development: Minnesota Symposium on Child Psychology (Vol. 23, pp. 43-77). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Datnow, A., & Castellano, M. (2000). Teachers’ responses to Success for All: How beliefs, experiences, and adaptations shape implementation. American Educational Research Journal, 37(3), 775-779.
Dufour, R., & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities: Best practices for enhancing student achievement. Bloomington, IN: National Educational Service.
Hord, S. (1997). Professional learning communities: Communities of continuous inquiry and development. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.
McLaughlin, M.W., & Talbert, J. (1993). Contexts that matter for teaching and learning. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University, Center for Research on the Context of Secondary School Teaching.
Rosenholtz, S. (1989). Teacher’s workplace: The social organization of schools. New York, NY: Longman.

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